Gibb fails to resolve summer-born admissions despite promises

Gibb fails to resolve summer-born admissions despite promises

Schools minister Nick Gibb is under fire for “failing to act” nearly two years after promising to stop the “postcode lottery” of unfair admissions for summer-born children.

Gibb (pictured) launched a review in July 2015 to investigate the admission rules for summer-born children, which he said was an issue “repeatedly raised on the doorstep” during campaigning for the 2015 general election.

Currently, pupils born between April 1 and August 31 can start school when they have turned five, but are typically placed straight into year 1, rather than reception.

Gibb said it was “important children do not miss the vital teaching that takes place in the reception class”. The schools minister then announced in September 2015 the government would amend the admissions code so schools had to admit summer-born five-year-olds into reception classes.

However, a consultation over the plans has still not been launched, with the snap general election expected to delay the changes further. Any changes to the ministerial line-up at the Department for Education (DfE) could also threaten the policy proposal.

Pauline Hull, co-founder of the Summer Born Campaign group, said children were “being forced to start school early or miss a whole year of school”.

“Two years after Nick Gibb’s promise to stop the postcode lottery and unfair admissions process for summer-born children, the Department for Education has again failed to act.”

Hull said summer-borns left to miss a whole year of school also contradicted Gibbs’ views on pupil absence through term-time holidays.

Gibb had previously said parents shouldn’t be able to take their children on holiday during term time because “abundant academic evidence” showed time spent in school was “one of the single strongest determinants of academic success”.

The government funded the Isle of Wight council to fight a legal challenge over a fine issued to Jon Platt, who took his daughter out of school to go to Florida in April 2015.

Platt argued his daughter still had a 90 per cent attendance record, but judges ruled that regular attendance had to follow the rules set by schools.

The delay in summer-born changes was also raised by Helen Hayes, Labour MP for Dulwich and West Norwood, in April.

She submitted a parliamentary question on when the proposed consultation over admissions changes would be launched.

But Gibb said it was not possible to respond “in the time available” before prorogation (the end of parliament) after Theresa May announced the snap general election.

The DfE could not respond to a request for comment because of purdah rules.

But Gibb told parliament in October last year the government needed “more information and data” before it could make a call on admissions.

Concerns over the financial impact on the policy, which could affect both early years and post-16 providers, appear to have delayed a final decision.

Gibb launched the review after DfE figures showed children born in August were far more likely to be labelled as having special educational needs (SEN) by the end of primary school.

Hull said savings in reduced SEN diagnosis alone could counter any cost concerns.

Gibb said in October he understood parents’ “frustration” as they waited for the change, but said it was “important” to consider how to implement the policy.